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Animated Insects
lady bugs

Role of Animation
James and the Giant PeachA Bug's Life

How Animation Plays a Part

Flik the Ant from A Bug's LifeInsects are frequent stars of animated films. Several innate characteristics of the animation process make it an excellent medium for depicting insects, according to cinema professor Richard Leskosky and entomology professor May Berenbaum, both of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Benefits of Animating Insects

  • The animator determines size and scale; no sophisticated cameras required.
  • The majority of the public is familar with insects only as caricatures.
  • Exaggerated features make them more interesting and entertaining to the public.

Before the late 1990s, almost no full-length animated films featured insects in primary roles. Insects were often in secondary positions, possibly because the public finds them largely unsympathetic. That changed though, with three major motion pictures in the late '90s: the stop-motion claymation film James and the Giant Peach, Antz and A Bug's Life. Antz is similar to A Bug's Life in many ways. The Internet Movie Database has more information on that film.

Common Characteristics of Animated Insects
Slim the Walking Stick from A Bug's Life

  • They are frequently anatomically incorrect. With all those appendages to draw, animators often remove a pair of legs and simplify other body parts. This has the benefit of making the insects appear more human, and therefore more sympathetic, as well.

  • They tend to be anthropomorphic, walking upright on two hind legs and using the forelegs as arms. Their faces have human features (eyes, nose, mouth, teeth) instead of the biological features of insects (ocelli, mandibles, etc.).

James and the Giant Peach

In this film (adapted from a children's book by author Roald Dahl), a young boy comes across some magic seeds that he plants to grow an enormous peach. Trying to escape the nasty aunts he lives with, he crawls inside the peach to discover that not only has the peach grown--the insects inside are life-size, too!

James and the insects go on an adventure in the peach, which is pulled through the air by a flock of birds. The insects in this film are portrayed in a positive manner as teammates and, eventually, James' confidantes and trusted friends.

The grasshopper takes a role as the wise, older insect, in a reversal of Aesop's fable about the grasshopper and the ant. James and the Giant Peach also features a spider, a lady bug, a centipede and a firefly (the lamp, naturally).

A Bug's Life

Disney and Pixar Studios collaborated on this computer-animated film. The story uses insects to represent different groups of people.

The two main groups are the ants (as a society "programmed" and afraid of change) and the grasshoppers (as a society motivated by fear and run by a tyrant). The grasshoppers bully, threaten and occasionally beat up the ants. This is in line with Aesop's fable. In A Bug's Life, it is the ants who are always preparing for the future and the grasshoppers who want a free ride on the labor of the ants. It is interesting to note that the bad guys, who can't function in society at large, are represented by grasshoppers, not a social group of insects.

A Bug's Life illustrates one of the most common ways insects are used in films, with different species representing different social groups.

Francis the Lady BugA third faction in the movie is the circus. The performers are all of different species, reflecting the hodgepodge backgrounds of circus performers in reality. The flea circus includes a flea (the ringmaster, of course), a caterpillar, a walking stick and a lady bug.

A Bug's Life goes against traditional insect roles with the circus characters. The lady bug is no lady. He's a smart-talking tough guy named Francis.

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Copyright 2002 Angie Brammer, all rights reserved
Last updated April 18, 2002